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In case you missed it, the state of California banned the chemical that gives chrome its shiny finish. Why? Toxic fumes. In a year full of combustion bans and tightening emissions regulations, this one may have gotten classic car fans the most riled up.

How can you not love chrome? I can see why this shiny metal coating has become central to the custom car, custom motorcycle, and even custom semi truck communities. And why it is the subject of love songs such as Trace Adkins, “(Her favorite color is) Chrome.” But it might not be legal for long.

The problem is the chemical “chromium-6” which is the key ingredient of the chrome-plating process. The state of California points out that it is 500 times more toxic than diesel exhaust fumes. For this reason, the state banned the chemical.

Chrome hubcap of a classic car reflecting California palm trees.
Chrome hubcap | Bill Chizek via iStockPhoto

In California’s defense, it announced it is “working with” the aftermarket industry and even the military to seek an alternative. And that’s great. I’m sure even the enthusiasts who apply chrome plating for a living would embrace a less-toxic alternative…if its still as shiny.

And note that no such chemical is in widespread use.

It is important to correct a misconception. Chromium-6 is a very toxic chemical. This chemical makes applying chrome plating tricky, and require shops with special ventilation systems. But that doesn’t mean your chrome-plated bumper is belching out toxins at 500 times the rate of a diesel truck. Chrome is very stable once applied. So comparing it to engine emissions could be misleading.

In May, 2023, the California Air Resources Board voted on the ban. Using Chromium-6 in industrial applications (to increase durability) will be illegal by 2039. But hold on to your hotrods, Chromium-6 for decorative plating will be illegal in 2027. Let’s hope the industry can find an alternative soon.

Next, find out whether California is banning black cars, or learn more about California’s chrome ban in the video below: